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TV as Thin as a Sheet of Paper? Printable Flexible Electronics Just Became Easier With Stable Electrodes

April 25, 2012 | Hogan Keyser
paper_thin_tv.jpgApril 19, 2012 via ScienceDaily.com -- Imagine owning a television with the thickness and weight of a sheet of paper. It will be possible, someday, thanks to the growing industry of printed electronics. The process, which allows manufacturers to literally print or roll materials onto surfaces to produce an electronically functional device, is already used in organic solar cells and organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) that form the displays of cellphones.

Although this emerging technology is expected to grow by tens of billions of dollars over the next 10 years, one challenge is in manufacturing at low cost in ambient conditions. In order to create light or energy by injecting or collecting electrons, printed electronics require conductors, usually calcium, magnesium or lithium, with a low-work function. These metals are chemically very reactive. They oxidize and stop working if exposed to oxygen and moisture. This is why electronics in solar cells and TVs, for example, must be covered with a rigid, thick barrier such as glass or expensive encapsulation layers.

However, in new findings published in the journal Science, Georgia Tech researchers have introduced what appears to be a universal technique to reduce the work function of a conductor. They spread a very thin layer of a polymer, approximately one to 10 nanometers thick, on the conductor's surface to create a strong surface dipole. The interaction turns air-stable conductors into efficient, low-work function electrodes.

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